Let’s face it, rookies are exciting. Not just for fans of their teams, but rookies carry plenty of excitement from a Fantasy Football perspective. Every owner loves finding/drafting a shiny new “toy,” and the thrill is unmatched when your player explodes in his first year. The trick to rookies is finding which ones carry the most upside for your team. The following is my Top 10 Fantasy Football rookies with two bonus additions… because just like you, I can’t get enough rookie talk and couldn’t stop at 10.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL – When people ask me if I’m overreacting by putting Elliott fourth overall for running backs, I counter with a question of my own. If the Cowboys drafted Todd Gurley last year, how high would you have ranked him in the preseason? If you said anything outside of the Top 5 running backs, you’re lying or you’re insane. Gurley was the fifth best Fantasy running back, and he didn’t have the Cowboys’ offensive line in front of him. Elliott does. Additionally, Elliott is a true three-down running back, who may be the best pass-blocking option we’ve seen in the last five years, if not the past decade. Elliott is solid in the passing game, has a great burst, terrific balance and rarely fumbles. He will see the ball 20-plus times a game, and any decent running back with 20 touches behind that line would put up RB1 numbers. A special player like Elliott? Well, ranking him RB4 may be too low!
2. Corey Coleman, WR, CLE – Coleman landed in a great situation for his Fantasy Football value. Given his talent, Coleman should be one of the team’s starting receivers come Week 1. While he lacks some size (5’11”, 194 pounds), Coleman has plenty of speed to be a dangerous weapon over the middle and after the catch. While Coleman needs to learn more of the route tree, he’s a matchup problem with stop-and-gos, screens and in routes. You can expect Coleman to rack up the targets and receptions as a rookie, making him a WR3 in PPR and even in the WR3 conversation for standard scoring.
3. Sterling Shepard, WR, NYG – As with Coleman, Shepard is in a great situation for his Fantasy potential. We have no idea what version of Victor Cruz we’ll see this year… if any version after last year. Even if Cruz is 90 percent of what he was and Shepard is the team’s No. 3 option, the Giants use three-receiver sets as much as any team. If Cruz isn’t close to his old self or can’t get on the field, Shepard’s upside skyrockets starting next to Odell Beckham. Again similar to Coleman, Shepard will do a ton of damage over the middle, out of the slot and after the catch. Shepard is great off the line with quick cuts and can use his speed to beat defenders deep. Shepard’s snap count is the only issue limiting him to start 2016, but again, if Cruz struggles in his return, you will want to have been on bandwagon already.
4. Michael Thomas, WR, NO – Pre draft, I said the right team could maximize Thomas’ value, and the Saints are the right team. The Saints are lacking in red zone options. The Saints lost Marques Colston, and while they signed Coby Fleener this offseason, Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead are better “in the field” receivers than red zone options. Enter Michael Thomas. He relies on his precision more than ability, but that precision helps him stand out, as Thomas has NFL quality route-running ability. Thomas will use his size (6’3″, 212 pounds) and strength to win balls, and that will come in handy – you guessed it – in the red zone. With Drew Brees and the Saints offense behind him, Thomas could near double-digit touchdowns as a rookie and a half-dozen TDs should be no sweat.
5. Tyler Boyd, WR, CIN – In what is becoming a running theme, Boyd’s team significantly boosts his value. Boyd is dangerous after the catch (another theme with these receivers), runs good routes, has great hands and can line up anywhere, even the backfield. His explosiveness gives him big-play ability any time he touches the ball. Boyd is also quite good at attacking the ball and has good body control, which helps offset the size difference he’ll see in the NFL (Boyd is 6’1″ and 197 pounds). With Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu on different teams, Boyd only needs to pass Brandon LaFell on the depth chart to start opposite of A.J. Green, which he more than has the talent to do. Even with several options in Cincinnati, Boyd doesn’t necessarily need touchdowns to succeed in Fantasy, as Jones finished WR39 with just four touchdowns. Boyd can produce a similar output if he’s the No. 2 receiver for the Bengals.
6. Josh Doctson, WR, WSH – If talking pure talent, no one would rank higher than Doctson. He’s going to make Kirk Cousins a better quarterback the moment he steps on the field. Doctson is athletically gifted, catches nearly everything and blends his excellent ball-tracking skills with great hands and the speed to get the deep ball. Defenders struggle to stay with him, and he regularly makes Beckham-like catches. While he comes to the Redskins with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon ahead of him, I fully expect Doctson’s talent to win out and push Doctson into a starting role before long. Even before that point, Doctson will be a top red zone threat for Cousins, and he is a real threat to near double-digit touchdowns as a rookie.
7. Kenneth Dixon, RB, BAL – Dixon was my No. 2 running back before the draft, and I find it hard not to still like him a great deal. Dixon is the most-talented running back in Baltimore already. Don’t be surprised when Dixon is the lead option for the Ravens at some point in 2016. While he’ll start behind Justin Forsett initially, Forsett is 31 this year and has missed significant time three of the last four years. Dixon had a 3.6 yards after contact mark behind a questionable offensive line and even ran for 4,483 yards. His cutting ability and stop-and-go moves are among the best, and there are flashes of Jamaal Charles and/or Gio Bernard here. At worst, Forsett is healthy for 16 games and Dixon carves out a Bernard-like role. At best, he’s a top-end RB2 flirting with RB1 value as the team’s lead option.
8. Laquon Treadwell, WR, MIN – Treadwell’s Fantasy Football value lies heavily in touchdown production. That could hurt him with Teddy Bridgewater being a cautious quarterback and the Vikings being a run-first team. Nevertheless, Treadwell has the talent to haul in a respectable number of touchdowns as a rookie and is the team’s best red zone threat already. Treadwell uses his strength and body extremely well to cut off and out-muscle defenders. On a high-octane team such as the Saints, Treadwell would be in the WR3 conversation. While the Vikings offense isn’t as appealing, Treadwell ability to produce is, even on a team that runs through Adrian Peterson.
9. Jordan Howard, RB, CHI – Howard is a powerful, between-the-tackles runner and uses every bit of his 6’0″, 230-pound frame to his benefit. Howard doesn’t slow as the game wears on, which helps him take advantage of tiring defenses. He’s also adept at utilizing his blocking and will fit the Bears’ scheme quite well. In fact, I say he’s the best running back in Chicago already. Jeremy Langford is better suited as the change of pace option with Howard as the lead/early-down back. The Bears’ backfield could easily look like the Bengals’ duo of Jeremy Hill and Bernard with Howard being Hill and having more value in Fantasy Football leagues.
10. C.J. Prosise, RB, SEA – The most logical comparison for Prosise is David Johnson, and it makes sense. Both are terrific weapons in the passing game. Prosise also averaged 6.6 yards per carry and has the speed and power to notch some big gains. What makes Prosise tough to defend is his balance and great lateral agility. The Seahawks drafted two other running backs – Alex Collins and Zac Brooks – adding a bit of concern to Thomas Rawls‘ return from a fractured ankle. If Rawls isn’t ready for the 2016 NFL season, Prosise will have RB2 upside. Even if Rawls is ready, Prosise will see enough work to be worthy of RB3/flex consideration in PPR leagues with the potential for more.
Bonus 1. Rashard Higgins, WR, CLE – The Browns need receivers; everyone knows this. What everyone might not know is that Higgins is a serious threat to claim one of the starting roles. Higgins put up 171 receptions, 2,812 yards and 25 touchdowns over his final two seasons. Some will point to a drop-off last year, but Higgins lost Garrett Grayson. Higgins is a smooth route runner and knows how to set up defenders to gain separation. Higgins can line up anywhere, which will help him even more in securing a significant role as a rookie. Do not make the mistake of overlooking Higgins in Cleveland.
Bonus 2. Paul Perkins, RB, NYG – The Giants backfield certainly looks crowded, but as with Elliott, Dixon and Howard before him, Perkins is the most-talented running back on his team. Perkins is one of the most elusive rookie running backs, has terrific jukes and jabs steps and draws comparisons to LeSean McCoy. Last year, Rashad Jennings finished as RB20 with over 1,000 total yards, but his age and wear are starting to take their toll. Shane Vereen is a passing game option and limited to that role… which he does quite well to be fair. Those two factors put Perkins in position to see Fantasy Football value from day one and gives him a high ceiling if Jennings or any running back missed time.